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You Ask, I Answer

Ask whatever you want and I’ll answer! This is a new series that pulls questions that you guys ask me and answer them. If you have a question, ask!

Question:

….is there not an argument for any coverage is good coverage when it comes to raising awareness, even if that coverage is pure feelgood fairytale??

My Answer:

Short answer: Our culture is so saturated with the feel-good inspirational porn that NO coverage is better than perpetuating this in any way, shape or form. The feel-good actively harms us.

Long answer:

“Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Major problems across the disability spectrum include unemployment (and under-employment), sexual abuse, physical abuse, glass ceilings brought about by systemic structure (- that is, earning caps to keep medical benefits and financial nets), and rampant discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities.

I can’t speak to each element within the collection of problems that we face, but I can speak to the employment piece, since that’s the one that I’ve worked on, with , and around for 15 years.

This is the deal: it’s extremely hard to find a job, create a career, when you don’t feel you have anything worthwhile to bring to the table. An employer asks, “why should I hire you?” and you sit back, all, “uh…. I don’t know… why should you?!

In my case, I was told all my life that my disability was something that I should overcome. That I was beautiful despite my scars (not because of them), that my (lack of) hearing was a test given by God to me to strengthen me (“with fire we test the gold!“). My abysmally low sense of worth was the perfect ground for sexual abuse – and of course later, mental and physical – to flourish upon.

A pivotal change

I’ve talked before about what a shock it was for me to work at and be engaged with the Berkeley disability community. It was huge for me, without question a pivotal experience in my life. It was the first time I had ever – EVER! – seen engaged professionals with disabilities – all kinds of disabilities – working, changing the world, kicking ass. It was the first time I had seen loud and proud d/Deaf people – not only unashamed of who they were, but PROUD OF BEING DEAF.

When I first heard, “nothing about us without us” I cried.

I mean, I ugly-cried, it spoke so deeply to my mind (so tired of people with disabilities telling us how to be), and viscerally to my heart (yearning to connect with my own power).

Portrayal and Disability

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” While she was referring to Africans and race, it applies in this case to us with disabilities.

You see, when we are portrayed as inspirations (like in the movie Wonder, and oh, all over the place in mainstream American culture), when we are seen over and over again as “angels” (in the case of Down syndrome), when we are perpetually put into a one-dimensional box, a part of us becomes that.

Or rather, there is a part of us that becomes that – or thinks we should be that way, but the greater part of us feels the discrepancy between what we know ourselves to be and what society is telling us we should be, and let me tell you something:

It. Is. Crazy. Making.

It’s like cultural gaslighting.

How Inspiration Porn Affects Problems the Disability Community Faces

In my opinion, one of the roots to the problems that our community faces is in the objectification of us who have disabilities. It’s telling us over and over again that we are to be pitied, that we have to overcome intrinsic parts of who we are – parts of us that WILL NEVER CHANGE, no matter how much therapy we engage in!

It’s our families, schools, surrounding social imagery and culture telling us that the only real value that we have to offer people is that of inspiring them (through dint of our disability alone).

It’s growing up without understanding the value of our disability in and of itself (because all disabilities have value – but we need to figure out what that value is).

It’s society telling us that we are angels, and angels don’t need fair pay for fair work, angels don’t need intimacy or sex, and -the flip side of the coin – who would sexually abuse an angel? – so the “angels” are unprotected.

It’s us not tapping into, harnessing and developing our strengths. We aren’t told we are strong; we are told we are weak and need help. And what happens when we are told something again and again? Right. We become it. 

This is the danger of these messages. We are NOT raising awareness with movies like Wonder.

Movies like Wonder are NOT better than nothing, because they play an active role in perpetuating this culture of objectification of a person with a disability, of us disabled. This type of imagery is actively telling kids with disabilities that they are inspirational solely on the basis of disability.

Movies like Wonder – and popular culture which supports Inspiration Porn –  are teaching society that privilege and whiteness have no roles in disabled intersections, that one can accomplish anything solely on the basis of a good attitude, a bright and cheerful disposition with a sunny smile.

And that’s just not true.

Like Stella Young said, a person using a wheelchair can sit and smile at a flight of stairs all day with a smile won’t change that flight of stairs into a ramp.

yellow background with image of a woman sitting in a wheelchair with red hair, a red shirt and an intelligent gleam in her eye. The text reads, "that quote, 'the only disability in life is a bad attitude:' the reason that's bullshit is... No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille." - stella young
taken from Crippled Scholar – click the image to go to the article

I’m going to go a step further and say that the attitude actually hurts us, because it causes mainstream society to actually believe that of us (- “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become…”), that we are these one-dimensional creatures upon whom pity should be bestowed, that we are not capable of more than what they think we are capable of, and that we need to try and be more like THEM.

And the inattention to disability intersections and attitude hurts us because mainstream simply can’t understand what a vital role healthcare plays in our lives (- in Wonder, who paid for those 27 surgeries that Auggie had??), what we would be capable of if we were not bound by the constraints of the system.  It doesn’t drive the message home of the fact that if you have a disability and you are a person of color, your life is in literal danger from systemic violence, lack of disability diagnosis, and police brutality.

I could go on. But I won’t. I think you got the point: No, I do not think that a feel-good inaccurate representation of disability is better than none. 

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“Gaslighting” is not a new term but it feels if it is, because the concept seems like it is exploding into the lives of people right now. But what is it exactly? And how do you know if it’s going on in your own relationship? Are you making things up in your own head, overthinking everything? Are you too sensitive? Let’s find out!

Gaslighting: What it is, How to Tell if You are Being Gaslit and 15 Examples of Gaslighting in Relationships:

Gaslighting. This term comes from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (and later, the 1940 movie, and later remakes), in which a husband tried to drive his wife crazy by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home. When his wife points out the change in light, he denies that the light changed at all.

It’s an excellent movie in and of itself. I was going to just link to it as a point of reference, but changed my mind because the movie is so good. If you have some time, watch it.

Gaslight: The Original 1940 Movie

Moving along, I know you are eager to see some actual examples of what this looks like to see how it fits into the framework of what you may be experiencing or have seen.

An Example of Gaslighting in a Relationship Looks Like This:

  • “Why are you making things up?!”
  • “You are so jealous!”
  • “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”

Gaslighting makes the victim question their own feelings, instincts, sanity. Yes, sanity: it makes people think they are crazy. Because of this, it is a form of abuse, heavily favored by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths.

"Gaslighting?!"

This is the thing: when or if an abuser can get the victim to fundamentally doubt themselves, or once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own feelings, instincts and sanity, they’ve won on so many levels. They can manipulate the victim, obviously, the victim thinks the problem is with the victim (and apologizes to the abuser). The victim is also likely to stay in the relationship for a long time – it takes a tremendous amount of will power to leave the manipulations that are behind gaslighting and the people who gaslight.

This is where it’s helpful to understand that the people who gaslight are often from the narcissistic/sociopathatic/psychopathic spectrum.

There are a lot of different examples of gaslighting in relationships, because there are more than one type of gaslighting.

Gaslighting Techniques & Examples of Gaslighting in a Relationship:

Countering: this is the classic example, like what the husband did with the wife in the original “Gaslighting” – this is when the abuser makes the victim question what happened with statements like,

  • “huh? that’s not how it happened!”
  • “your memory is so crappy!”
  • “it didn’t happen that way!”

Withholding: when the abusive partner pretends they don’t understand or just won’t listen. They say things like,

  • “why do you keep saying things like this?!”
  • “I don’t want to hear this again”
  • “you are making stuff up!”

Diverting: the victim’s thoughts are questioned, or the abuser diverts the subject. It can go like this:

  • “you are imagining things”
  • “oh great, this is what you got from (friend/family member)”

Repetitive Questioning: the abusive partner makes the victim doubt what they think or feel. The key her is the insidious intent, and the repetitive nature of the questions, questions like:

  • “are you sure?”
  • “do you really think so?”

Trivializing: the victim is made to feel like their needs or feelings are out of whack. The partner says things like,

  • “you are too sensitive!”
  • “you are so jealous”
  • “you are going to get all upset over something so small?”

Revealing Hidden Thoughts of Others: where the abuser will “reveal” what other people are “really” thinking about the victim. This is effective in making the victim doubt themselves and their fundamental sense of what reality is. Examples in this technique include things are said in a well-meaning way:

  • “I know you really want to make people laugh, but I just want you to know that a lot of people feel like they have to listen to you and I can see them rolling their eyes at you behind your back…”
  • “people have been saying ~ (insert hurtful lie)”

 

Many components within gaslighting are normal

There are many things in gaslighting that are normal – we try and change other people’s opinions all the time, right? We try and get what we want all the time, too. The difference between what is ‘normal’ and what is gaslighting lie partly in the effects.

how to tell if you are being gaslit - 15 examples of gaslighting in a relationship

Signs that You are Being Gaslit:

(taken from the National Domestic Violence Hotline)

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.
  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

People who are prime fodder for being gaslit tend to be empathetic, compassionate people. People who feel things, and who care about others. When they feel something (intuitively) or see something blatantly in their face and are made through their interaction with their partner to start doubting themselves, their reality, and their sanity, they are being gaslit.

My Own Example

I was gaslit for years. I truly thought that I was bi-polar, and went so far as to take medication for bi-polar disorder.

While I have Complex PTSD, I am not bi-polar. I know that now without a doubt because the moment that I received the text message that proved that my husband was being unfaithful to me, a fog lifted off my brain. It was like a weighted blanket had been lifted – I could see everything so clearly for the first time in years.

I also experienced a powerful sense of relief, knowing that I had been correct all along, realizing that my intuition had been serving me well for years. My husband had simply gaslit me into thinking that I was crazy, that I was wrong. I was led into self-doubt at each and every turn.

I have not taken bi-polar medication since July (it has been 5 months) and have experienced nothing but clarity. It’s almost as if I have come home to myself.

Examples of Gaslighting in a Relationship

Gaslighting is a real form of abuse. If you recognize any of these signs that I have talked about here, or if any of this resonates with you, REACH OUT.

Get Help: 1-800-799-7233 for the Domestic Violence Hotline.

Click HERE for their live chat help.

DeafHope serves the  d/Deaf community ending violence and can also help. Contact them HERE.

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